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Dave Schumacher & Cubeye: Smoke in the Sky

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Dave Schumacher - Photo by Marta Marcy
Saxophonist Dave Schumacher. Photo by Marta Marcy

Instrumental soloists practising their craft 90 miles [or more] north of the Estrecho de Florida have long coveted the Afro-Cuban music that reverberated with the proverbial clave much like the backbeat and improvised melodic lines of Black American music. The baritone saxophonist Dave Schumacher, who cut his teeth with big bands such as those of Lionel Hampton and others may have come a tad late to the game. This is a good thing. Certainly, the on Smoke in the Sky proves this. This is not just a thoughtful and imaginatively conceived recital programme; it’s a full-blown love letter to Afro-Cuban music, and the charts cover our senses in waves of joy.

Everything here takes as its starting point the vibrant and colourful Afro-Cuban rhythmic conception: Mr Schumacher makes sure of that, both in his original work as well as in his exquisite arrangements of works by other composers. The main story here in Smoke in the Sky is solidarity with Black Americans – specifically the riots that ensued after the merciless beating of Rodney King by a group of murderous police officers in San Francisco. But there may also be an important sub-plot here, and that is the deliberate [continuing] choking off of Cuba after the US blockade prevented the world from providing the island nation from essential goods with which to feed and/or care for the health of its people.

Dave Schumacher & Cubeye: Smoke in the Sky [album cover]
Dave Schumacher & Cubeye: Smoke in the Sky [album cover]

However, Mr Schumacher’s vision – his Cubeye, if you please – is not a violent, reactionary automatic musical reaction to either of the events that have inspired this music. Rather, in protest songs such as the saxophonist’s originals especially Smoke in the Sky, [No more] Smoke in the Sky, as well as Eddie Harris’ You Know It’s Wrong offer more substantial propositions, namely melodies, harmonic variations and rhythmic vibrations that sweep from storm-tossed grandeur to glittering bravura. The song El Dilema de Chegüi Metralla, by the iconic Cuban folkloric ensemble AfroCuba de Matanzas, has been brilliantly arranged by pianist Manuel Valera. It is also, likewise, an eloquent reminder of the force of nature that is Afro-Cuban music despite all the communal pressures that Cubans have been subjected to for more than 60 years.

It is no small coincidence that included in this repertoire is Mr Schumacher’s composition dedicated to Cal Massey. The latter was an important – albeit little-known – musician known for his active support of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement and the legendary The Black Panthers. In point of fact, Mr Massey’s ideology resulted in him getting blacklisted [“whitelisted” according to celebrated Fred Ho] from major recording companies and only one album was ever recorded under his name. Incidentally, the revolutionary tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp also drew attention to Cal Massey by performing several charts – including The Cry of My People – on the album I Hear The Sound by the Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra [Dawn of Freedom/Archieball Music, 2013].

But back again to the music of Smoke in the Sky and the performers who are joining Mr Schumacher in making it elegant, fierce, and tight at the top, and full–blooded at the bottom with rapid-fire shifts of musical character. This is a true communal effort and as proof of this fact you will hardly notice long, meandering soli. You will, instead be treated to spectacular re-inventions based on melodic lines, from trumpeters Josh Evans and Jesus Ricardo, and the saxophonist Peter Brainin who dazzle with their idiomatically sculpted harmonic variations. The rhythmic contingent of pianist Manuel Valera, contrabassist Alex “Apolo” Ayala and percussion colourist Mauricio Herrera and drummer Joel Mateo prove to be second to none. All of this takes us on a dazzling journey of endlessly vibrating sound.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Dave Schumacher & Cubeye: Smoke in the Sky

Music – 1: Smoke in the Sky; 2: You Know it’s Wrong; 3: Caridad; 4: [No More] Smoke in the Sky; 5: El Dilema de Chegüi Metralla; 6: Cal Massey; 7: Walk Spirit Talk Spirit; 8: Poinciana.

Musicians – Dave Schumacher: baritone saxophone; Josh Evans: trumpet [1, 5 – 8]; Jesus Ricardo: trumpet [2, 3]; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone [1, 5 – 8]; Manuel Valera: piano; Alex “Apolo” Ayala: contrabass; Joel Mateo: drums and bells; Mauricio Herrera: conga, bata drums and chekeré.

Released – 2024
Label – Cellar Music [CMR 100123]
[cellarmusicgroup.com]
Runtime – 53:31

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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